The Southeastern Mass. Reader’s Advisory Roundtable (SE-RART) met Wed., Feb. 7, at the Attleboro Public Library to discuss Historical Adventure, a subgenre of Adventure fiction.
The benchmark title was The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, first in a ongoing series. (The tenth book in The Last Kingdom series came out in 2016.)
First we talked about characteristics of Historical Adventure, based on our supplemental readings:
- Hannon, Michael. Blood, Bedlam, Bullets, and Bad Guys. Introduction, pp. ix–xii
- Hannon, Michael. Blood, Bedlam, Bullets, and Bad Guys. Chapter 11: On the High Seas, pp. 217-18
- Hooper, Brad. Read On…Historical Fiction, Action-Packed Adventures, pp. 85-89
We also used the Adventure chapter from The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed. by Joyce Saricks, which we used in December’s meeting, and which we will continue to refer to throughout our study of the Adventure genre.
We discussed key elements of historical adventure fiction:
- Often slower pace, longer time span than in contemporary adventure
- Still a story focused on life-and-death situations, often a mission
- Usually a satisfying ending with order restored in some way
(“Romance for men”)
- Identifiable hero, likeable and extremely capable, often has a sidekick (Bromance)
- Often continuing series with same characters
- Detailed battle scenes, realistic military/historical period setting
- Often have historical notes at the end, as well as maps, ship plans
- Tone often dark, due to danger, but humor can lighten tone
- Language usually colorful, often with military jargon, makes reader feel knowledgeable. Pronunciation guides are common.
“The adventure/suspense story is probably the oldest of human kind’s fiction genres and can be traced back to tales that prehistoric people told around a flickering fire or scratched with charcoal onto cave walls. The archetypal hero who must surmount overwhelming obstacles is not only the basis of much of our earliest literature, he (and now she) is also the foundation of all modern adventure stories. The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer, Beowulf, the Song of Roland, Shakespeare’s tragedies are gripping adventure stories as well as classic literature” – Blood, Bedlam, Bullets, and Bad Guys
We talked about whether historical adventure had to be about war, and decided that, although it often may be set during times of war, it didn’t need to be, but there needed to be some sort of danger, a visible enemy, and some amount of fighting involved.
We discussed The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, our benchmark title, in reader’s advisory terms:
- Very accurately described battle scenes, not as much humor as the authors Sharpe series
- Historical note to say where author departed from historical fact
- Lots of dialogue helps keep pace up, though story spans years
- First-person point of view lends immediacy and lightens the tone
- Were there exotic locales, foreign countries?
- Military strategy is important to the story
- Main character sees events on both sides, English and Danish
- Characters are fully developed, some strong women
- There is a villain character, but the shifting loyalties of main character add subtlety and depth to the story, which is set in a period of time when nationality was more fluid than it is now
Second titles will be posted soon; it’s OK to submit yours still, if you forgot! We had a lot of overlap in our second titles in the Historical Adventure subgenre this month, but the ones we discussed in terms of reader’s advisory appeal factors – frame, tone, pacing, plot/storyline, characters – included the following:
Brethren by Robin Young
Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure by Michael Chabon (2)
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
(audiobook highly recommended)
River God by Wilbur Smith
The Sea Witch by Helen Hollick (2)
Please register online for the Tuesday, April 3rd meeting, 10am-12pm, at the Hanover Public Library to talk about Espionage/Political Thrillers. (Please note location change!) The benchmark title will be The Camel Club by David Baldacci.
New members are always welcome to jump in at any point in the year.